REVIEW: New “Will and Grace” lands on its feet after rough start

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Here’s the things about political humor, and especially Trump jokes: It gets old and unfunny quickly unless you stay up to date and topical.

I bring this up because the season premiere of “Will and Grace” (titled “11 Years Later”), a reintroduction to the show and those characters 11 years after its initial run on NBC, leans hard on political humor. And it doesn’t work out.

The show opens with the four main leads, Will (Eric McCormack), Grace (Debra Messing), Karen (Megan Mullally) and Jack (Sean Hayes) playing a game of Heads Up. The scenes is stuffed with one-liners that inform viewers that the characters are hip and up to date on current events.

But the jokes aren’t all that fresh or funny. In fact, the scene, with its references to Caitlyn Jenner and Grindr, plays like a too-desperate attempt to prove the show is still relevant. Then the plot kicks in and things get worse. Will sets out on a mission to woo a Congressman he doesn’t agree with politically, with Jack as his wingman. Meanwhile, Karen gets Grace a job redecorating the Oval Office.

There is potential for laughs in both these situations, but the writers seem more concerned with shaming Trump than making us laugh. The jokes they do tell are variants on tired riffs that we’ve heard too many times before. Seriously, jokes about the color of Trump’s skin stopped being funny months ago.

The lack of laughs drags the season premiere down, but thankfully, Episode 2 (titled “Who’s Your Daddy?) is much more fun. In this episode, Grace gets trapped in a shower with Karen while Jack and Will try hooking up with much younger men.

“Who’s Your Daddy” works better for several reasons. First, the reintroductions are out of the way. You know the situation and the characters have been established. Now they are free to get into trouble.

Secondly, this episode is more easy to relate to. It’s easy to understand what Will and Jack are going through, trying to impress potential mates, because we all go through that. It’s easy to relate to, so it’s easy to laugh with them.

The Grace/Karen plot is also a pretty amusing use of the old “two characters trapped in a small space” comedic cliche. It gives the two ladies a chance to riff off one another, and there’s some good chemistry there.

The acting is solid. Obviously, there is a challenge in picking up a character you put down over a decade ago and making it work. But these folks pull it off, with Hayes really shining. He has some physical gags in one scene that brought Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton to mind. Throw that all together, and “Who’s Your Daddy?” ends up being a pretty good time.

Despite a bumpy premiere of less-than-hilarious political “jokes”, “Will & Grace” recovers nicely in episode two. As long as the show sticks to what it does well and stops regurgitating other people’s old jokes, there should be a lot of good things to come.

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